Ecuador is one of the smallest countries of South America. It lies on the west coast of the continent between Colombia and Peru. The equator crosses Ecuador and gives the country its name. Ecuador is the Spanish word for equator. The Andes Mountains rise through much of central Ecuador.
About half the people live in the valleys and on the plateaus of the Andes. Quito, Ecuador's capital, lies more than 9,000 feet (2,700 meters) above sea level on an Andean plateau. A flat, partly forested, tropical plain extends west of the Andes along the Pacific Ocean. This coastal plain is developing faster than any other part of the country. About half the Ecuadorian people live there. During the middle and late 1900's, many people moved to the coastal plain to farm its rich soil.
Others moved to the coastal city of Guayaquil to find jobs. Guayaquil is Ecuador's largest city. It is also the country's leading commercial center and chief seaport. East of the Andes Mountains is a large jungle. Ecuador has had more than 15 constitutions since it gained independence from Spain. Most of these constitutions provided for an elected legislature, but in many elections few of Ecuador's people have been allowed to vote.
Strong leaders have suspended or replaced many of the country's constitutions in order to stay in office or to increase their power. Most of Ecuador's rulers have been military leaders or have had the support of the armed forces. About 10 percent of Ecuador's people-mostly of European ancestry-make up the wealthiest and most powerful group in the country. Indians and mestizos each form about 40 percent of the population.
Blacks, whose ancestors were brought to Ecuador as slaves of the Spaniards, make up the remaining 10 percent of the population. Most Ecuadorians speak Spanish, and more than 90 percent of the population belongs to the Roman Catholic Church. The Ecuadorian government requires all children from 6 to 14 years old to go to school. However, most of the schools are located in the cities and towns, and many rural children do not attend school. A majority of adult Ecuadorians can read and write. Ecuador has 4 public universities, 3 private universities, and 10 technical schools.
The mainland of Ecuador has three regions: (1) the Coastal Lowland, (2) the Andes Highland, and (3) the Eastern Lowland. The Galapagos Islands also belong to Ecuador. Ecuador's climate varies according to the altitude. The Coastal Lowland and the Eastern Lowland are hot and humid.
The Peru Current cools the Coastal Lowland slightly. The temperature in the lowlands averages about 75 ^0 F (24 ^0 C). The tropical climate of the Galapagos Islands is cooled by the Peru Current. In the Andes Highland, the plateaus have springlike weather all year and an average temperature of 57 ^0 F (14 ^0 C). The climate is colder at higher altitudes. Snow covers the Andes from an altitude of about 16,000 feet (4,880 meters) up.
An average of 55 inches (140 centimeters) of rain falls in Ecuador every year. Heavy rainfall occurs in the Eastern Lowland and also in the northern part of the Coastal Lowland. The southern part of the Coastal Lowland receives a light rainfall. Light rain also falls in the Galapagos Islands.
Agriculture employs more people in Ecuador than does any other economic activity. Most of the nation's bananas, cacao, coffee, and sugar cane are raised on plantations that are located in the Coastal Lowland. Oranges and rice are also grown in many coastal areas. Most of the food for the people who live in Ecuador's cities comes from haciendas in the Andes Highland. Crops grown in the Andes Highland include beans, corn, potatoes, and wheat. Farmers raise cattle for meat and for dairy products.